You might be forgiven for thinking Between Two Cities is a Victorian board game designed by Charles Dickens. Where you dart around the board following in the footsteps of the French Doctor Manette. Actually, forgiveness would be unlikely as that would be A Tale of Two Cities and therefore the board game would be set on a ferry in the middle of the English Channel if it really were to be betwixt the two cities.
Thank goodness then that before Wingspan, Scythe and Libertalia, Stonemaier Games published a game designed by Matthew O’Malley and Ben Rosset, rather than opting for the non-existent Dickensian ferry-boat game I now have in my head.
I feel I should make amends for a somewhat peculiar introduction. So here is a more straight-laced approach…
In a similar way to Viticulture now having bits of the base game and expansions combined, Between Two Cities Essential Edition combines the original board game and the Capital expansion into one. With the exception of some artwork and the scoreboard, there is nothing new here. So if you have the original and the expansion you have it all already. I didn’t, so this was a great way to try it all!
I’m sorry, what can I say about that introduction, perhaps… It was the best of times, it was the worst of times!
Place a starting city board between all players. Distribute nine tiles to each player. If you are in the mood also set up three double tiles and a further nine tiles per player and set these to one side for the second and third rounds or just scramble around for them when the time arises. Let each player also choose one of the monuments. Believe it or not that’s the game set up – perhaps Rome could’ve been built in a day if groundwork was this quick!
The name provides a good synopsis of the board game: you will be working Between Two Cities. In other words, you will be working to build a city with both of your neighbours. Every turn players will simultaneously draft two tiles, one for each of their cities. Once chosen, players place the remaining tiles in front of them with a monument on top to show that they have made their decision. Players then reveal their choices and decide which city to put each tile into. This is repeated over three rounds. In round one players will choose eight and play four tiles in each of their cities. Round two, a double tile will be added to your city. Then in the final round eight more single tiles will be drafted with four being added to each city. This will complete your five by five city.
The first tile you play must be on your player board and thereafter tiles must be placed orthogonally beside a previously laid tile. The different types of tiles score in a variety of ways, some have adjacency rules, others don’t. They vary from the simple set collection of entertainment venues to meeting certain criteria like on the civic building tiles whereby they require to be touching certain other tiles, but also not touch something else.
A clever mechanic of the game is that you will only score the lower of your two cities at the end of the game, so you have to concentrate on scoring both as well as possible.
Once you’ve mastered the base game you can use the included common objectives to further enhance the replayability and mix up player’s strategy more.
There is a solo mode… but I haven’t tried it. If ever I do, I will drop my opinion here.
What it’s like
Like a freshly tarmacked road, I can only really describe Between Two Cities as smooth. Gameplay is sleek and refined. Most of the time your choice is intuitive, but being allowed to swap tiles between your two cities does allow for a bit of persuasive bartering!
Building two cities isn’t as confusing as you might think. Interaction is really high, as you not only discuss your own cities but will need to scout what other cities are up to too. This helps work out what tiles may be coming your way and how factories will score (they are worth more if your city has the most or second most).
Pretty much, regardless of player count, the game has very little downtime thanks to the all play drafting and the tile-laying process. There is a little bit of luck towards the end as you are hoping to see, or not see, certain tiles in your hand but generally you feel like you are making the decisions and being the master of your own destiny.
The suggested age on the box of 14 plus is a little out for me. I know I have board gaming kids but with the younger two sat beside at least one of us parents they are competitive and understand the game. I think most children around 10+ would be fine if playing with an adult beside them.
I really like the overall appearance of Between Two Cities. The individual player boards not only add a fun placement challenge to begin with but also spruce up the look on the table. It is a bit unnerving not having this board in front of you, seems counter-intuitive to have one either side of you. In fact in my most recent game, players kept moving them in front of them instinctively during the teach!
The artwork on the tiles is fine, it is unlikely to win a board game beauty pageant, but equally there is nothing that will burn the eyes here. Once you are familiar with them, the scoring reminders on the tiles is a nice easy reference point. I like the monument tokens, while a little superfluous they are a nice touch.
The Essential Edition replaces a central score board with a scorepad. Many people complained that the scoring was slow as you would have to work your way round the table to record the scores. I can therefore see why the scorepads were an attractive alternative. This allow each player to score one of their cities, comparing scores at the end. Great in theory but if playing with new players, or children, it is easier to do it for them. Therefore for me personally, a scoreboard, or better designed pad that could also work for multiple players would’ve been my preference. The design feels too roomy and unnecessarily spacious. I can see Stonemaier Games were dammed if they kept the scoreboard and dammed if they didn’t. So perhaps the solution would’ve been to include both!
The game abandons any conventionally useful insert. The cardboard trough is okay, but I can see some wanting better. This also creates quite a bit of air in the box too, but it is by no means the worst offender on this front. The included grip seal bags are compostable and effort to reduce shrink wrap had been made which is good.
What the kids thought
Max (8): I enjoy playing it. I like the tokens and how they represent different landmarks. It’s quite different being co-operative and not co-op because you are working with other players but also not, as you want to get the highest, lowest score, if that makes sense!
George (12): I really like Between Two Cities. I enjoy how you have to go for a good mix of all the different tiles. Collecting the different buildings and deciding what to go for is a fun puzzle. I also like how you have to balance building in both cities as it is quite unique.
Harrison (15): I like the drafting mechanic, it’s one of my favourites anyway and it works well in this game. I like how you have to find a balance between both of the cities you are working on, which means you can’t just ignore one. I also like the different ways to score points. Overall, it’s really good.
Final thoughts on Between Two Cities: Essential Edition
The list of games that plays seven people with limited downtime is short. Even if it wasn’t, Between Two Cities would be very high up the list. I liked the ease of teach, especially with the player count. Granted they had an understanding of set collection and drafting, but I taught this to a table with five new-to-the-game board gamer friends and it was a breeze. I also like that you still feel as though you are playing a board game and not a party game.
It is easy enough to teach and include competitively my eight year old son. This is therefore an ideal game to get to the table when we have friends round. It offers enough to think about and sits beautifully in the games that allow for high player counts.
I will note that I have played Between Two Castles of Mad Kind Ludwig once. The scoring and placement of tiles bamboozled me more than in this version. I did enjoy it though, but it was heavier. For its ease of teach and accessibility, Between Two Cities would therefore be my choice of the two.
Number of players: 1 to 7
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 10+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 14+
Playing Time: 35 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 2 minutes
Designers: Matthew O’Malley and Ben Rosset
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
If you are looking for a game that seamlessly and happily sits three players as it does seven, Between Two Cities Essential Edition is a tremendous option. It really is streamlined and refreshingly different. The familiarity of the drafting and the set collection means that this game gels together for those familiar with modern board games.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Higher player count
- Base game and expansion in one box
- Quite unique gameplay
- Streamlined and little downtime
- High player interaction
- The scorepad
- The trough insert
- The air in the box
- Luck of the draw towards the end of the game
For clarity: we don’t get paid for our reviews. However, we were kindly gifted this game by Stonemaier Games. We have tried not to let this affect our review in any way.